Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica is a 1,657 meter-tall stratovolcano that has shown decreased activity since October 2010. However, in the past, this volcano was quite active. On July 27, 1968, Arenal erupted after a 400 to 500 year dormant period. Prior to the explosion, Arenal was known as Arenal Peak, since it was thought to be a mountain. In the months leading up to the 1968 explosion, the people living in the region surrounding the volcano noticed some warning signs, including ground movement, especially the night before the explosion. People who climbed Arenal noticed that the rocks making up the volcano were hot for some time. Fumaroles, or vents from which hot steam escapes, were noted on the volcano as well. However, at the time, there was no elaborate warning system set up, nor were there volcano experts in the area. As a result, residents who lived near Arenal were not necessarily aware of the impending danger.

Arenal exploded from its western side at approximately 7:30 in the morning. When the eruption occurred, farming communities that were located near the slopes of the volcano were destroyed. The three small villages of Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo, and San Luís were decimated when 15 square kilometers surrounding the volcano were buried with rocks, ash, and lava over 232 square kilometers of land. Unfortunately, 87 people lost their lives during this destruction that lasted several days. Rocks weighing several tons were thrown more than a kilometer away from the volcano at a rate of 600 meters per second at the height of the eruption.

The town of La Fortuna (translated to mean “The Fortune”) was spared from the devastation, but people were still evacuated from the small village. As a result, La Fortuna was deserted for many months after the 1968 eruption. Some people eventually returned to the town, but many residents did not. When I was in La Fortuna, I noticed that Arenal looms not too far off in the distance, and it is plain to see why people were hesitant to return. However, La Fortuna has now become a tourist destination specifically due to its proximity to the volcano.

Because of this fateful tragedy in 1968, residents who want to live near the volcano do not build their homes very close to the site. I visited Arenal in July 2012, and I was not able to hike past a certain point as a safety precaution. Even though the eruption ended in tragedy for the community, the volcano has brought in millions of tourists to this region of Costa Rica. As a result, tourism is vital to this area.

Photo of Arenal as seen from La Fortuna courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. (


For more information on Arenal, please see:

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